The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently published new guidelines regarding children’s use of the Internet, television, cellphones and video games.
Their recommendations include the following:
- Children should have no more than two hours of screen time for entertainment purposes each day.
- Children under 2 shouldn’t have any TV or Internet exposure.
- Parents should ban electronic media during mealtimes and after bedtime.
- Parents should set rules on the use of the Internet, social media, cellphones and texting, including which sites can be visited.
- Parents should have access to their kids’ Facebook, Instagram, and other social accounts.
- Children should not have televisions or Internet access in their bedrooms.
Why such concern? Because children are bombarded 24 hours a day with opportunities for media consumption—from television to texting and social media. And those stimuli can have a bad effect on children’s health. Marjorie Hogan, co-author of the new policy, says that “Excessive media use is associated with obesity, poor school performance, aggression and lack of sleep.”
A report from The Kaiser Family Foundation shows that in 2009, children ages 8 to 18 spent an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day on media strictly for entertainment, including TV, video games and computer use. Keep in mind that the first iPad was released on April 3, 2010, so it’s likely that usage has increased somewhat since then.
The recommendation that really got my attention was the new suggestion from the AAP that families adopt a no-device rule at mealtimes and after bedtime. This suggestion means that parents would have to abide by the same rule as an example to their children on how to keep technology in its proper place. Ouch!
That got me thinking about how much family time has changed since I was a kid. The idea of a whole family eating dinner together while each person gives most of their attention to a phone or other device is sobering.
When I was kid, no electronic devices existed except television. There were only four stations available, so too much TV watching wasn’t an issue. When we did watch television it was usually as a family. Most Sundays, for instance, we would enjoy watching The Wonderful World of Disney and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But in addition to TV watching, we always ate together as a family (at the table), played board games, and enjoyed lots of outdoor activities.
Since then, the family dynamic has gradually changed. It first started with occasionally moving dinnertime to the living room where we would get out our TV trays and watch a movie during our meal. Remember how cool TV dinners were? That was just the beginning of shifting the focus of family mealtime from the people in front of you to an object. Sadly, the impact of electronics on family time has changed to such an extent over the years that the American Academy of Pediatrics felt that their job to promote children’s health and well-being required them to issue new guidelines for doctors/parents.
What is family? For many people, the idea of family may conjure up warm and cozy thoughts of togetherness. But are recent trends in the use of electronic devices relegating that warm and cozy idea of family to special occasions when everyone is physically, mentally, and emotionally present and actively involved in being together? Is it enough to just live under the same roof if no one is sharing experiences, conversation, and making memories together? What will the next generation look back upon from their childhood? Technological and social benchmarks of continuously upgraded new devices, gaming, and electronic social presence? Or will they have memories of shared meals, story time, and engaging activities done with family?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a Luddite. I love technology as much as the next person. After all, tools like computers and audiobooks have allowed this dyslexic guy to have a much fuller life than I would have otherwise had. However, balance is key.
What do you observe in your own family? How do you make time to interact with your kids? Have you found ways to keep electronics in their place? I’d love to hear your responses.